Banged-Up Heart: Dancing With Love and Loss
Shirley Melis’s book opens at a Christmas party hosted by some friends of hers, two years after the death of her first husband, Joe. Though she still deeply misses her dead husband, it is plain to see that she is not lost in grief. If she were, the beginning of the book would be jarring rather than touching, for the first chapter consists of a conversation between herself and John, the host’s brother. Even in those first few pages, where we know little about Shirley and less about John, their mutual interest is obvious, creating an excellent juxtaposition for her dud of a first date in the next chapter. It should come as no surprise that Shirley begins to pursue a relationship with John, and what follows is a touching and at times heart-rending tale of finding and losing love late in life.
John has a rare type of cancer, but knowing that doesn’t stop him and Shirley from beginning a whirlwind romance. Theirs is a love that some would surely insist has been written in the stars. After a few “get-to-know-you” dates, they move in together, and it isn’t much longer before they’re married. What’s the point in putting off something that feels so right? Shortly after getting married, they go on safari to Africa; their first anniversary is spent in France. Unfortunately, all of their plans for adventure come crashing to a halt when John’s cancer attacks his body with a vengeance, sending him into a painful downward spiral and making Shirley realize that she may well be widowed again very soon.
Though the target audience for the book is an older age group than I belong to, I couldn’t help but be moved by Shirley’s story. Some of the details will appeal more to people of her age and class, but the story itself is one that could reach out to anyone, young or old, rich or poor. It is, after all, a story about love, and love is something that affects all people, regardless of who they are or the sort of life they have lived. The themes of love and loss are considered universal for a reason, and this book faces both of them with honesty and courage. Therefore, I would recommend this book to anyone, but with a small warning. The first half of the book, with their courtship, honeymoon, and first anniversary, is such a funny, sweet, and touching whirlwind that the sudden shift in the second half may come as a shock. My warning isn’t to keep the ending of the book in mind; it’s to let yourself forget, to let yourself feel every emotion freely. That is the only way to go through life, and the only way to experience this book.
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